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Madrid players fully behind Mourinho

Real Madrid's players and backroom staff have rallied behind coach Jose Mourinho by defending the squad's morale and unity following a number of below-par performances.

The nine-time European Cup winners return to Champions League action at home to Ajax tomorrow as Group D leaders thanks to an uninspiring 1-0 win at Dinamo Zagreb two weeks ago which was the starting point for their dip in form.

A shock 1-0 defeat at Levante and a 0-0 draw at Racing Santander followed and even Saturday's 6-2 battering of Rayo Vallecano did not stop reporters asking defender Alvaro Arbeloa yesterday about the squad's morale and its relationship with Mourinho.

"We are all totally united and the atmosphere is good even after a week which has been quite difficult," Arbeloa said. "Some of us players have come out and denied this talk of supposed divisions or a bad atmosphere and I do so again."

There was a heated debate at Real's general assembly at the weekend, with some members accusing the outspoken Mourinho of damaging the club's image with his behaviour.

That prompted a robust defence of the Portuguese coach from club president Florentino Perez.

Mourinho will complete the last game of a three-match ban imposed by UEFA for an outburst after last season's notorious semi-final clash with eventual champions Barcelona.

"Everyone at the club is united, not just from yesterday but they have been for a long time," said assistant coach Aitor Karanka.

"We are all working in the same direction. The coach was the first to dismiss this talk of a crisis."

Turkish midfielder Hamit Altintop has been included in a Real squad for the first time since joining the club in the close season and defender Ricardo Carvalho is also back after recovering from a blow to the head he received last week.

Irish Independent